The final round of negotiations between the two opposing administrations in Libya have been taking place this week in Cairo.
Under the auspices of Stephanie Williams, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Libya, representatives from the Tripoli-based High Council of State met their Tobruk-based counterparts from the eastern House of Representatives.
The talks take place amongst an atmosphere of uncertainty and apprehension after eruptions of violence only days ago in Tripoli, when militias loyal to opposing leaders are reported to have clashed in the capital.
The stated aim of the negotiations is to complete Libya’s protracted and complicated transition to democracy after a decade of instability, political infighting and civil war. They follow the indefinite postponement of elections in December after a multiplicity of complications arose surrounding the validity of certain candidates for nomination.
This postponement then threw into doubt the legitimacy of interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s rule. Dbeibah was appointed for the purpose of overseeing the December elections in a UN-brokered process earlier in 2021.
Claiming that his mandate had therefore expired, the rival House of Representatives elected its own Prime Minister, Fathi Bashagha. Last month, Bashagha failed to enter Tripoli in an attempt to consolidate power.
Pessimistic onlookers will doubt that Libya can overcome the longstanding political paralysis that has burdened the country since the overthrow of Muammar Gadaffi in 2011, a cataclysmic event precipitated by intervening NATO forces.
After his removal, Libya was primarily left alone to manage its political transition as interveners neglected to remain for any sufficiently intensive rebuilding project. Multiple actors vying for dominance then emerged in the presence of a consequently large power vacuum.
A process of governmental bifurcation followed as two rival authorities emerged in the east and west of the country, a situation that quickly evolved into civil war.
This was exacerbated by the involvement of external powers looking to capitalise on this situation by alternately backing rival factions in the decade-long period of instability.
Large-scale fighting between parties ended in 2020, but Libya has as yet failed to escape the risk of political violence re-erupting by finding common ground in which free and fair elections can take place.
The final round of negotiations in Cairo therefore seeks to overcome this stalemate and facilitate the advent of Libyan democracy.
Whether or not consensus can be reached on the establishment of a new constitution is yet to be seen. But at some point, the damage done by NATO in 2011 will need to be overcome for the sake of the Libyan citizens that have endured so much.
Agreement, ostensibly at least, seems possible. Members from both political sides at the Joint Military Committee affirmed their desire to preclude any future recourses to war as a means of establishing unity.
If this commitment is born of any genuine substance, then it is at least one important step towards moving on from the violence and chaos that has plagued Libya since 2011.
Matt Tipton – Journalism Intern at Pressenza. MLitt International Political Theory, University of St Andrews. BA History, London School of Economics and Political Science. Interested in Humanitarianism, MENA, and the political philosophy of Isaiah Berlin.